MAIDAN SHAHR: At least eight women are in the run for district council elections in central Maidan Wardak province, where there is not a single female candidate from four districts.
Local residents explained primitive traditions, cultural issues, insecurity, lack of public awareness and no salaries for district council members kept women from contesting the elections.
There are eight districts in Maidan Wardak, with three seats allocated each to women public representatives from Behsud, Syedabad and Chak districts. Two seats each are reserved for women from Nirkh, Jalrez, Jaghato, Behsud-1 and Daimirdad districts.
Wahida Khkwale, director of women affairs, said nine females had submitted nomination papers for Wolesi Jirga and eight others for district council elections so far. Unfortunately, the number of female candidates was low, she remarked.
Maidan Wardak is one of the backward provinces, where necessary steps had not been taken to ameliorate women’s situation, according to the official, who stressed the need for more female public representatives.
She explained 25 percent of seats had been set aside for women but there was not a single nominee in some districts. Insecurity, conservative customs and inadequate public awareness were the main hurdles to women’s participation in the polls, she believed.
Nafisa Selai, former deputy chief of the provincial council, held a similar view, saying fighting in the province discourages women’s participation in the national mainstream.
Programmes encouraging women to discuss, much less snatch, their rights had not been conducted in Maidan Wardak so far, she alleged. Girls could hardly study up to 8th grade in the province, where there schools for them exist only in Maidan Shahar.
The ex-public rep said the women contesting elections were original residents of Maidan Wardak but lived in Kabul. She also hit out at the women affairs department’s inefficiency, slamming its activities in remote areas as symbolic.
Maidan Wardak’s representative in youth parliament Zarifa Ghafari also described frequent fighting in the province a major hurdle to women’s nomination for elections.
Restrictions on women and an extremely low literacy rate were behind women’s inability to contest the elections, she said, pointing to a total absence of financial privileges for district council members.
According to Ghafari, the women nominees living in Kabul were unable to go to insecure and remote areas of the province to address public people problems in an effective way.
Wajiha Akhtarzai, a district council candidate from Syedabad district, told Pajhwok she wanted to serve the people, especially to empower women.
“Some of my family members oppose my decision and there are cultural problems as well. However, I have assured them of my capability of measuring up to the challenge. I will work hard for my constituents even in insecure areas,” she promised.
To residents of stable neighbourhoods, she argued, everyone could reach out. The major problems being faced by women nominees include insufficient financial privileges, illiteracy and insecurity, she maintained.
She opined Kabul-based women could not satisfactorily represent Wardak people in on district councils. “All candidates may not be living in Kabul. To get education, I too have lived in Kabul. But my permanent residence is in Syedabad.”
Haji Azizullah, a tribal elder from Syedabad district, agreed so many restrictions and social impediments were the reason for the fewer women contesting elections.
Provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) Director Niamatullah Habibi confirmed there were no female candidates from Chak, Jaghato, Daimirdad and Behsud districts.
He said four women from Behsud, two from Jalrez and one each from Nirkh and Syedabad were running for district elections. Of the 44 individuals in Wardak who have submitted nomination papers, nine are women and two Kochis.
For 62 district council seats, 138 people, including eight women, are in the run. For the 19 seats reserved for women, the IEC official said, there were only eight contestants.
“The commission is striving to contact social organisations, having female civil activists who want to contest polls. We will fully cooperate with them,” he promised.
However, the official suggested, some district seats for women could still remain empty.
Under Article 61 of the Election Law, a district with a population of up to 40,000 has five seats. A district with a population of up to 70,000 has seven seats.
Nine seats are allocated to a district with a population of up to 90,000 and 10 to that with population of up to 10,000. Twenty-five of the seats are reserved for women.